Soon after my first ever view of Mt. Etna this afternoon, I turned off the road that follows the northern ridge of the Monti Iblei to Sortino, and took a lesser road that winds north out of the mountains, towards the tiny foothill village of Pedagaggi. At this point, it was getting rather dark, and it was well within my standard rough-campsite lookout period of 4:30-5pm daily. I was fortunate enough to find a suitable spot almost immediately after taking the Pedagaggi turnoff: a little farm just next to the road, which had a packed-dirt driveway leading down to the house (with the gate wide open); and a grassy area to the right of the driveway, which was shielded from view of the house by a little hill, and which was also reasonably hidden from the main road. I was also doubly lucky, because — although I didn't know it at the time — there was nothing nearly as good further down the road, when I continued the ride the next morning.
This morning's ride — both parts of it — was one of those times that really tests you. If you want to do something big, you have to expect to be challenged at some points — and in my big Sicilian ride, this was one of those points. Part one of the ride was a battle against various odds: rough and confusing roads; a cold battering wind; and angry roadside dogs without relent. Part two was simply a question of pure, uphill determination: the ascent to the mountaintop village of Erice, located 750m asl, was not for the faint-hearted. But I endured, and I persisted, and I told the dogs where to shove it; and I made it through. And proud to have done it, too.
I awoke in my field near Gangi this morning, to find a dog waiting patiently for me right outside my tent. When I saw him there, I nearly jumped out of my skin! He disappeared while I was breakfasting and packing away; but when I rode away, he appeared again, and he started chasing after me. This was one hell of a fast dog: I was cruising down the highway; but he easily kept up with me, and he didn't give up until after I'd reached Gangi. He was so speedy, I decided to call him "Gonzalez". Poor fella — guess he was just lonely, and wanted some company.
Madrilas is the gorgeous dog that lives at Patanuk. Not sure exactly what breed he is — he's from the Pyrenees in Spain, but I don't think he's a Great Pyrenees — but he's big, grey, shaggy, very gentle, and less than a year old. Sylvia brought him over from Spain about 6 months ago, when he was a smaller puppy. He'll play with anyone who's got time for him, and his favourite hobby is falling asleep in the middle of where everyone has to walk, forcing them to jump over him.